It’s impossible to discuss the luxury watch industry without immediately having Geneva monopolize the conversation, along with examples of the exquisite Swiss craftsmanship. Switzerland has always been (and will always be) the capital of watchmaking. For more than 400 years, the basic elements of tradition, craftsmanship, high technologies and permanent innovation have been at the basis of the Swiss watchmaking industry; allowing for the longtime reign as being recognized as the best in the world.
It was 1541 when the influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation, Jean Calvin, was in the middle of the religious reforms that turned Geneva into the “Protestant Rome.” These Protestants from France, Germany, Italy and parts of Switzerland were seeking refuge; resulting in some of Europe’s best craftsmen coming together to establish the foundation of what was to become the “fabrique genevoise” – Geneva’s horological industry.
Always at the pinnacle of the industry, Switzerland maintains a very comfortable position representing the best of the best in this world of luxury timepieces. The country also has been recognized for being home of the first wristwatch, the first quartz watch, the first water resistant wristwatch, the thinnest wristwatch in the world, the smallest watch, the most expensive watch and many more.
The doors are opened wide for those ready to purchase a watch, and the boutiques go above and beyond to cater to their clients and create a bespoke experience. While the details of these VIP treatments are not often openly discussed, the perks of buying a watch directly from the source, and in the “home of luxury watchmaking” are quickly revealed once the appointment is made.
The industry today has changed a lot since 1541 when the jewelers developed watchmaking after Jean Calvin had banned the wearing of jewels; however, the passion and craftsmanship has remained at the forefront of the craft. It was 1601 that The Watchmakers’ Guild of Geneva was established, making it another ‘first’ for Geneva. Today, the watch and clock industry is the third largest export for Switzerland, and the unmistakable Swiss timepieces can be found throughout the entire world.
The Big Five
By many of the Swiss standards, Concord is still a relatively new company, dating back only to 1908, but the sleek styling and timeless designs make them a very popular option for the savvy shopper looking for an eye-catching timepiece. It was during the early years that Concord focused much of their efforts on marketing to the United States, and was behind the first private label luxury watches that used precious metals and gems. These were developed for a number of high-end jewelers, such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany & Co. and more.
History, technology and design come together with Patek Phillipe being one of the most sought-after watches in Geneva. Dating back to the mid-1800’s, the company created the first Swiss wristwatch in 1868, which was sold to Countess Koscewicz of Hungary. Continuing to branch out throughout the world, Patek Philippe entered the Asian market in 1883, including India, China, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore and the Dutch East Indies. In recent years, a new production site was opened to house Patek Phillipe’s three partner companies (Calame, Poli-Art and Sertissage Haut Gamme) under one roof, and a monumental event in 2014 when Patek Phillipe celebrated its 175 year anniversary.
The world of Rolex began in 1905 when founder, Hans Wilsdorf, started with a vision of wristwatches not only being elegant, but also reliable. It was since the beginning that Rolex proved itself as the master of chronometric precision, and having proved itself as a worldwide competitor in the industry, Rolex moved their operation to Geneva in 1920. It was as early as 1927 that Rolex became intertwined with sports by being worn by Mercedes Gleitze during her 10-hour swim across the English Channel; leading to the brand being a major player in worldwide sporting events, including equestrian, exploring, golf, tennis, yachting and motorsports.
Dating back to the very beginning of the early days of watchmaking, Tag Heuer has been a visionary for more than 150 years, and become one of the most popular luxury watch options internationally. The company went to all new heights in 1962 when Tag Heuer became the first Swiss watchmaker in space, making their outreach literally ‘out of this world’. In 1999, TAG Heuer became part of LVMH, which is one of the world’s leading collection of prestige brands. Today, the company continues to partner with a number of sporting events; has an impressive list of ambassadors, including Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Maria Sharapova and more; and offers a line of Avant Garde Eyewear and unique accessories such as rings, belts, jackets, bags, wallets and more.
Having securely maintained the position as one of the most popular luxury watches in Geneva, Vacheron Constantin has been revolutionizing the industry for more than 260 years. It began with a simple looking, yet sophisticated, silver pocket-watch by Jean-Marc Vacheron. It was nearly 65 years later that the Vacheron family came together with Francois Constantin to establish Vacheron Constantin in 1819. The infamous Maltese cross logo was born in 1880, and was actually designed after a movement component inside their timepieces, and today is a symbol of the company’s ongoing quest for precision. With the first actual boutique opening in 1906, the years since then have been spent further embedding the company as an integral part of Geneva’s past, present and future.
Unique To Geneva
The Geneva Watch Tour
For those visiting Geneva for the first time, or seriously looking to purchase a watch during their visit, the Geneva Watch Tour is an ideal ‘crash-course’ introduction of everything the city has to offer. Visitors feel more connected to the area once they have this intimate look at the world of luxury watches that only Geneva can deliver. After much demand for such a tour, the pedestrian route now provides a unique opportunity to admire the most sought-after areas of the city, while following along the famous steps of Swiss watchmaking history.
Approximately 50 mono-brand boutiques and multi-brand retailers are experienced, including the shopping quarter in the centre; the old town with its art and decoration galleries; the banking and cultural institution district; as well as the modern art district, which is always a favorite with it being the home to the Patek Philippe Museum. A perfect way to become better acquainted with Geneva and this time-honored tradition; the Watch Tour can now be complimented by the Art Tour to explore another element of the glorious city.
Patek Phillipe Museum
When in Geneva, you can get up close and personal with Patek Phillipe at the expansive Museum (Rue des Vieux- Grenadiers 7) that is spread out among four levels of a beautiful building dating back to the early 20th century. While the company’s roots will always be in Geneva, Patek Phillippe continues to evolve to be a worldwide brand that now has relationships with more than 400 global retailers in more than 65 countries. Salons can also be found in Paris and London, as well as the very popular Patek Phillippe Maisons found in Shanghai and Beijing.
Vacheron Constantin Maison
Vacheron Constantin has been located in the saint-Gervais district since 1755, and has been in the current location since 1875 on the Quai de I’lle (7, Quai de l’Ile). Today, this exclusive location houses a boutique, brand archives, tools, machines and a diversity of watches from 1755, to the present day. There is almost nothing impossible for those looking to purchase a watch, thanks to a workshop with an engraver and a beveller, as well the ability to restore antique watches and fulfill personalized and custom-made watches.
Les Ambassadeurs Geneva
A great place to go when visitors simply don’t know what brand watch they want to purchase, the staff at Les Ambassadeurs Geneva is always extremely helpful and knowledgeable of the many, many brands they carry in this expansive boutique (Rue du Rhône 62). Having just received the 2015 Best Boutique Award for the fourth time, Les Ambassadeurs Geneva is one of the best multi-brand boutiques in the city. For nearly 50 years, the staff has been carefully selecting and maintaining an exceptional range from the most beautiful watches, thus proudly earning the localized reputation as “The Leading House of Leading Names”.
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